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by Ken Kesey
Highbridge Audio, 2006
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jan 23rd 2007

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

For those who have seen the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, their memory of Ken Kesey's novel will be dominated by images of Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher.  So listening to this abridged version of the novel, read by Kesey herself, is fascinating even for those who already know the novel.  You are reminded that R.P. McMurphy is a burley red-headed man in the novel, and that there are significant plot differences between the novel and the movie.  Most significantly, the novel is narrated by Chief Bromden, the large native American man with enormous strength who neither says nor apparently hears anything.  In the interview of Ken Kesey included on the CD, with Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air, he says that if the book had just been the story of the struggle between MrMurphy and Nurse Ratched, it would have been a melodrama, and it was the devise of telling it from Chief Bromden's point of view that made it work. 

Kesey had worked on a psychiatric ward and had participated in government (CIA) trials of LSD in a psychiatric hospital before writing his novel, so he had a good understanding of mental illness.  While he clearly thought that some of the people in mental hospitals were no more ill than many of the people who lived in normal life, he never denied the existence of mental illness.  One of his central messages is how the institution of a mental hospital creates a power structure requiring conformity, and that mental health treatments can be used as punishments and forms of social control.  He also clearly has a great love for his character R.P. McMurphy, who reminds the men in the hospital of the joys of living, whether they are sports, betting, alcohol or sex. 

Despite being an abridgement, all these qualities of the novel are very clear on Kesey's 3 hour performance of his book.  His reading is full of energy and subtlety, so it is very enjoyable to hear his interpretation of his great work.  Recommended. 





© 2007 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.

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